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Friday, October 28, 2011

Reminiscing

Today I am going to do a bit of 'spiritual reminiscing'--focusing on memories that helped shape my personal identity as well as my spiritual life. I do this with the hope that you will do your own spiritual reminiscing. It is an enriching exercise.

My memories today focus on the first time my parents took me to a Southern Gospel concert. This would be a significant, watershed moment in my life that would forever change the course I would take.

I was but a young boy, wide-eyed, and excited about seeing some of the famous quartets I had seen on TV. The church in which I grew up was rather 'high church' for Baptists. The choir had singers that read music very well, and many had received vocal training. Thus, their selections tended to be formal choral music.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love that kind of music. When a good choir can sing selections such as 'the Hallelujah Chorus' by Handel, and other such high-brow selections, I am the first to say 'BRAVO.' Not only am I blessed in my spirit but I simply love to hear quality music written by great composers and sung by singers who know what they are doing.

But, as was the case with many Protestant churches in the 50s and 60s, people began to note that the worship style had practically wiped all emotion out of the experience. Worship did not seem to be relaxed and enjoyable. And, people began to seek ways to worship God that included ALL of their emotions. Some turned to the charismatic movement to fill that void.

As for me, I never went down that path. But what happened to me was just as good.  My parents took me to a gospel quartet concert in my hometown.

The place was packed with 3000-4000 people, standing room only, and we were seated in the balcony with a direct view of the stage. It was perfect. There I heard four of the great quartets from that era--The Blue Ridge Quartet, the Harvesters, the Kingsmen Quartet, and, my favorite of all, The Florida Boys.

I remember to this day every song they sang and every move they made on stage. I watched in rapt attention, mesmerized by what I saw and heard. When the Florida Boys sang that night, I noticed something that set them apart from the rest. Even at that young an age I could pick out harmonies, balance, and tone. And I noticed that on that evening, the Florida Boys came as close to perfection as I had ever heard. The balance between the tenor, lead, baritone, and bass was perfect. Nobody overshadowed the others. All of the parts could be heard equally, except for the lead voice, which is meant to be slightly louder than the harmony parts.

And the harmony, to my way of thinking, was astounding. To me at least, it was music that resonated with me...exactly what I was looking for.

And then there was another thing that happened. Gospel music is by its nature emotional. The Boys seemed to love what they were doing. We clapped while they sang. We cried when they sang a moving selection. We laughed at pianist Darrell Stewart's antics on state...always good for 'comic relief.'

But the nature of the songs they sang touched me at a deep place in my heart...at a level never before reached by anyone or anything. I was a Florida Boys fan for life. I was a Gospel Quartet fan for life. And my spiritual life was molded and shaped by the 'plain-spoken Gospel truths' contained in those songs.

That night I also got the thrill of a lifetime when I was given the opportunity to go backstage and meet the Florida Boys. Lead singer/manager Les Beasley signed the printed program I was carrying. Bass singer Billy Todd smiled and gave me a pat on the head.

But the one who took the most time to just stand and talk for a long while was baritone Glen Allred.  Glen seemed to love children, especially those interested in Gospel singing. I told him that I wanted to sing in a quartet someday. I remember to this day what he said.

Glen said, "Good for you! We need clean cut young men like yourself, if you can stay that way as you grow up. And you have the looks, too. But let me hear you sing."

I sang the notes he demonstrated. He said, "Yep, you've got the pitch. I think if you apply yourself and learn how to use your voice properly, you can sing Gospel music."

Then, I asked Glen about Gospel singing and the spiritual life. I wanted to know what it was like to be on  the road. And he said, "To me the spiritual part is the most important part. Prayer is the key to my survival on the road. When I get through with a program, and we pack up the bus to leave, I just go back to my bunk, lay down, and pray. Staying in touch with the Lord like that is a big help."

Naturally, I had heard all of this before, about the importance of prayer and having a personal relationship with the Lord, but hearing if from one of my heroes seemed to be different. It just sank in and 'took.'

From that time forth, Glen Allred was a friend. Even in adulthood I would go backstage to talk to him when the group was in town--sometimes on the bus. The same with Les Beasley and Darrell Stewart. But it was Glen who had the greatest impact.

I am always thankful for the role these men played in the life of a young boy. Those 'precious memories' can never be forgotten.

And part of the reason I am who I am today is due to the influence of these men.  Thank God.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Whether in poverty or prosperity...

In the past I have written to you that it took a lot to get me through college, graduate school, and post-graduate education, given my propensity to doubt my gifts and abilities and to assume failure when there was no logical reason to do so.

At about the time I graduated from high school and went to college, I first came across the many books of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale of New York City, a Dutch Reformed minister who pastored the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan and who was a well-known motivational speaker all across the country. His book, The Power of Positive Thinking, is one of the best-selling American books of all time and has been translated into practically every known language on earth.

As a young man I traveled on a regular basis to New York to see Peale, both at his church and in his hometown of Pawling, which is roughly 60 miles north of NYC in Duchess County. We were not 'friends,' for I did not know him well enough. But I did know him.

The concepts Peale espoused were new to me. His view was that the Christian message was a positive one, empowering the individual to do far greater than they ever thought possible, and that, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me' (a verse of scripture from the book of Philippians).

These messages helped me to keep at bay my inner demons that constantly told me how worthless I was, that  I would never amount to anything, and that I certainly did not possess the intellect nor the ability to get an education.

But by focusing on the positive messages of the Bible pointed out by Peale, I was able to earn a B.A. and graduate on the Dean's List. I was able to earn a Master's Degree with a B average as well. A theological Master's degree is much more involved than a Master's in other fields of study. The basic M.Div. is an 84 hour degree, and the Master of Theology is at least 30 hours above that.

Then, I put in another 3 years in post-graduate education in Pastoral Care through an accredited program at 3 different hospitals, through the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education.

Thus, the 'power of positive thinking' was exactly what I needed at the time.

However, as with all schools of thought, one eventually discovers the limitations. It wasn't so much that Peale's message was flawed but that the way people interpreted it was flawed. That included me.

I fell into the erroneous notion that faith, or positive thinking, is the magic potion that leads to wealth and prosperity, health and wellness, or whatever else I desired. Unfortunately, in some Christian circles at the time this notion was embraced through what became known as the 'name it and claim it' brand of theology...that through faith, we can get whatever it is we want. All we have to do is to name it, claim it, believe it is ours, and voila. It IS ours.

Such magical thinking is not consistent with the scriptures and does not reflect the intent of the Gospel.

So, what IS that intent?

We are here to do God's bidding, to live in His will, whether it be in poverty or prosperity, in sickness or in health, in anonymity or fame. A realistic view of the disciples of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and centuries of other servants of the Lord, reveals that not all is sunshine and roses. These stalwart icons of the faith suffered greatly in this world. Many wound up in abject poverty and died penniless. Many were struck with physical maladies that threatened to prevent them from spreading the Christian message. Many were persecuted, beaten, shunned, scorned, and hated, sometimes to the point of being beheaded, crucified, or torn apart by wild beasts in the Roman Colosseum.

My point here is that if one makes the mistake of assuming that living the Christian life will result in abundance and riches, wealth and prosperity, wellness and lack of sickness, then one is setting himself/herself up for a rude awakening. It does not work that way.

Sometimes God wishes for us to minister to this world out of our abject poverty. So be it. Sometimes He wants us to reach out to others with the Christian Gospel out of our sickness or physical disability. So be it. Sometimes He allows us to be persecuted for the faith. So be it. My job is to be in the Lord's will, no matter what my standing in life or what will be my fate.

Sure, I want to be well. I would love to have enough money to be very comfortable. But that may not be what God wants for me. My task is to be at His disposal, to be His servant, totally submissive to His will.

It is not an easy way to live. But it is the only way I know, having arrived at this point through making some big mistakes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Artist Spotlight and a Bit of Music History for a Sunday

Over the last several months I have periodically shone the spotlight on some noteworthy Gospel artists and used the occasion to muse on some music history to boot. We continue with that today.

In my many comments about the famed Cathedral Quartet, retired in 1999, I have noted that Glen Payne and George Younce were responsible for introducing to Southern Gospel Music many top singers and musicians. At least 3 separate, full-time groups that are traveling today came out of the Cathedrals. We have discussed these already--Ernie Haas and the Signature Sound Quartet, Legacy Five, and The Mark Trammell Quartet. Now we will focus on the 4th.

Glen and George knew how to spot good talent, and the fact that all of these top-notch groups had their birth in the Cathedrals organization only emphasizes their influence. This was certainly true when, in the late 1980s, pianist Roger Bennett left the road for a couple of years. Bennett would return in 2 short years and stay with the group until their retirement in 1999.

But during the Bennett hiatus, Glen and George brought to the national stage a young pianist from the hills of East Tennessee who quickly established himself as one of the most amazing artists to come along in the history of Gospel music.

That young man was Gerald Wolfe.

Glen hired Wolfe to be the pianist for the Cathedrals, but it was discovered that this 'little man' (George used to kid Gerald about his small stature) had a powerful, crisp lead voice. Thus, in no time Glen and George were featuring Gerald's voice during their concerts, as well as his piano ability.

Perhaps no one in the history of Southern Gospel Music has ever established himself as a top talent in such a short period of time. In just a few months Christians who followed Gospel music were abuzz about Gerald Wolfe.

In 1986 or so, the Cathedrals traveled to London, England  to record an album with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It would become one of the landmark recordings in the genre, the first time a southern quartet had ever recorded with such a high-brow, acclaimed orchestra. Cathedrals personnel at the time were Danny Funderburke on tenor, Glen Payne on lead, Mark Trammell on baritone, George Younce on bass, and Gerald Wolfe on piano.

Several major hits came off of that album, but it was one solitary song that featured the voice of Gerald Wolfe that made music history. Glen decided that on this particular song Gerald would take the lead. And he  flat hit it out of the ballpark with the other guys harmonizing in the background, along with the thrilling sounds of the London Philharmonic providing the accompaniment.

That song was entitled, 'Champion of Love,' and from the time it was released until this very day the song has been sung each night whenever Gerald Wolfe performs. It became his 'signature song' and audiences today still insist that he sing it in his concerts.

'Champion of Love' was not only a major hit in Southern Gospel but found itself at the top of the playlists in the Christian Contemporary and Worship & Praise sub-genres.

After only 2 short years Gerald decided he wished to form his own group. On the strength of his mega-hit and the attention his voice was receiving all across the Christian world, Gerald formed a trio that he called 'Greater Vision.' For 22 years Greater Vision has been a staple in the top tier of Southern Gospel Music circles.

When Gerald started the trio he tapped baritone Rodney Griffin to join the group. Griffin was also a young songwriter. In time he would become one of the most prolific songwriters in the field, and Greater Vision has enjoyed a string of hits from the pen of Rodney Griffin to prove it.

When the Cathedrals were on their farewell tour, Mark Trammell reminisced on the influence that Gerald Wolfe had on his life during the short time he was with the Cathedrals. Trammell noted that late at night, as the bus was traveling down the road and he could not sleep, he would often get up and go talk to the bus driver. He would notice that on many nights Gerald was awake in his bunk as well, and as Mark passed by he would see Gerald's overhead light on, and there he would be, said Trammell, "reading his Bible."

Greater Vision under the leadership of Gerald Wolfe has been a shining example of what dedicated Christian men who not only talk the talk but walk the walk can do in this world of darkness and woe.

And now, here is an example of Greater Vision's music. This one is a favorite of mine, and it is from the pen of Rodney Griffin.  It is entitled, 'He's Still Waiting by the Well.' Turn up your volume on this one, folks. Not only is this a foot-tapping barn-burner, but the message is deep and moving. I like it. Hope you will too.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

TEN DAYS ABLAZE ENDS AT MIDNIGHT TONIGHT, OCT. 22

TEN DAYS ABLAZE!!
Today is your last day to take advantage of the free gifts offered to those who donate.  


10 Days of Opportunity!


Join me in this ministry through your free-will gifts!


This ministry is totally dependent on the gifts of supporters.  The good news for you is that your donation could qualify you for free gifts from me!


Here's how it works:


BENEFACTOR LEVEL
A one-time donation of $200
You will receive 3 free gifts for your support: a new Bible, one CD of my music entitled 'By Request', and one CD of vintage Gospel Quartet singing by my group from 1972--the Royals Quartet--a collector's item! The Bible is a genuine leather-bound study edition called The Thompson Chain Reference Bible in the King James Version, which retails for $99. But it can be yours for absolutely free, along with the 2 free CDs, for a gift of $200.


SPONSOR LEVEL
A one-time donation of $100
You will receive 2 free gifts for your support--a new Bible and one CD of your choice--my music entitled 'By Request', OR one CD of the Royals Quartet, vintage Gospel music from 1972. The Bible is a leather-bound study edition called the Holman Christian Standard Bible, considered the most accurate of the modern translations. It retails for $56, but it can be yours for absolutely free, along with one free CD, for a gift of $100.

PATRON LEVEL
A one-time donation of $50
You will receive 2 free gifts for your support--YOUR CHOICE OF the CD of my latest music entitled, 'By Request' OR a CD of the Royals Quartet from 1972, AND a pocket New Testament. This pocket New Testament is in genuine leather and comes with the Psalms. It retails for $24.99 but can be yours for absolutely free, along with one free CD, for a gift of $50. .

BOOSTER LEVEL
A one-time donation of $25
You will receive 2 free gifts for your support--the CD of my latest music entitled, 'By Request,' AND a CD of the Royals Quartet from 1972.

Simply click the 'Donation' button at the top of the right column to make your gift.

All gifts, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated, $5, $10, $15, $20--no gift is insignificant.
Your support will keep this ministry going. Thank-you for your generosity.


Notice: Please allow at least 6 weeks for delivery of free gifts to allow time for processing of orders. Thank-you.

Friday, October 21, 2011

T-Minus 36 Hours and Counting

Well, my friends, you have only 36 hours left to take advantage of my free offers in exchange for your donations to this ministry.

At midnight tomorrow night--less than 36 hours from now--these special offers will end.

Go here to find out how you can receive free top of the line study Bibles, along with free music.

After tomorrow, I won't bug you any more about it. I don't like having to do this to begin with. And if it were not necessary, I certainly would not be doing it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Only 2 Days Left

Heads up, my friends!

There are only 2 days left in my 'Ten Days Ablaze' fundraiser here at Martin Christian Ministries. Click that link for the info.

Have you made your donation yet? You are running out of time.

At midnight on Oct. 22, these special offers will end. This is a golden opportunity for you to receive free top-of-the-line study Bibles and free music in exchange for your donation to this ministry.

I would not ask you if there weren't a dire need.

But I won't bug you about it.

I deeply appreciate all of you who donate and who remember this ministry in your prayers and in your support by reading, even if you cannot give a monetary gift. Some gifts cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Info About the Free Study Bibles Offered as Gifts from Me

Some have asked about the nature of the study Bibles I am offering for free to those who make donations at the $200 level and the $100 level during my 'Ten Days Ablaze' going on right now, until the 22nd of this month.

At the $200 level you will receive a full, genuine leather-bound Thompson Chain Reference Bible--the most comprehensive and complete study Bible ever put together. This beautiful King James Version Bible adheres to the old adage that the best commentary on scripture is other scripture. In other words, for each phrase, key word, or verse, there is a reference to scores of other places in the Bible where the same subject is mentioned or discussed.

I have used Thompson for years and have benefited more from it in my studies than any other study Bible on the market..

The version I am offering costs $99 dollars if you buy it retail. I am offering it for FREE if you send a gift of $200. You will also receive 2 other gifts--2 CDs, one of my latest music entitled 'By Request,' and the other a vintage Gospel Quartet CD from 1972 of my own group The Royals.

At the $100 level you will receive a leather-bound Holman Study Bible. This is a copy of what is known in conservative/evangelical scholarly circles as the most accurate modern translation ever put together. It is called 'Holman Christian Standard Bible.'  100 scholars from 17 different Christian denominations translated the scriptures from the original Hebrew and Greek texts, and provided complete study notes.

This version retails for $56.00. You will get it absolutely free for a donation of $100. In addition, you will receive your choice of either the 'By Request' CD or the Royals Quartet CD.

At the $50 level you will receive a pocket New Testament plus your choice of one of the CDs being offered. The pocket New Testament is genuine leather and contains the Psalms. Retail price is $24.99. You will get it free along with your choice of either the 'By Request' CD or the Royals Quartet CD.

Hope this helps you to decide whether or not you wish to donate.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Wandering Minstrel

'Wandering' is an understatement.

Soloists in Christian music by and large do not fare well in the marketplace, especially not in Southern Gospel Music, where the emphasis is on quartets and trios. And while such lone minstrels do much better in 'Contemporary Christian Music,' the field is much harder to break into, and the deck is stacked against more mature artists in order to appeal to the younger set.

Thus, mature, seasoned soloists who are a bit older and who tend to steer toward middle of the road music--a combination of Southern Gospel, hymns, worship and praise, and country gospel--have a much harder time getting bookings, recording deals, and attention. So, we wander around as starving artists, minstrels who are simply looking for a place to sing.

Take Buddy Liles, for example.

Buddy is listed in my list of preferred links in the right column. For over 25 years Buddy was the bass singer for the Florida Boys. Back in the late 1990s he decided to move into the realm of solo work, and while today he keeps a rather full schedule, he can tell you that for years the going was very rough.

As a soloist, and a bass vocalist in a quartet, Buddy has one of those smooth, mellow voices that are rare in Christian music today. He is plenty low enough, but he has a voice that is so melodious that he can take a lead and sing it like a lead vocalist.

Buddy doesn't get much recognition although he deserves it.

And this is my point. Many of us who get out there and sing week by week do it because we love it, not because we get recognition, fame, or fortune. If these singers wanted to be rich and famous, they would sing some other form of music.

This is where you can come into the picture. Struggling artists such as myself are dependent on those who support what we are doing. If you support this ministry and like my singing, consider a donation during my special 10 Days Ablaze.  You can also get free gifts if you donate.

Prayerfully consider making your gift. Thank-you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Don't Be Misled--I'm at the Bottom Rung

The public at large tends to think that anyone involved in the music business, particularly the artists, live in luxury, make truckloads of money they don't what to do with, and essentially lead a glamorous life that is far removed from that of ordinary people.

That may be true for Mariah Caray, Celine Dion, Toby Keith, Taylor Swift, or Sugarland, but for most nothing could be further from the truth.

Only a tiny percentage of artists make it to the top level. Most operate in the dregs of society, at the bottom rung, attempting to squeeze out a measly living by doing one-night-stands in various small-time venues.

This is even more true in Gospel music.

Take Southern Gospel, for example. Out of the several hundred groups that are out there singing, only about 30 or so manage to make enough money to stay on the road week after week. And some of these in the top 30 must supplement their income by working other jobs. The money is simply not there, not by a long shot.

I remember when Glen Payne and George Younce first launched the Cathedral Quartet in the early 60s. Many assume that the group has always been prosperous, rolling in dough, living the good life. Far from it.

Glen and George struggled for the first 20 years of the Cathedrals' existence.  I remember that Glen, as manager, would have the quartet out on the road for 28 out of 30 days of the month, singing almost every single night at every small church that would agree to have a quartet come in, just in order to scrape together enough money to meet expenses and pay the singers a little money. But times were very hard.

In fact, in 1979 when every member of the group departed except for Glen and George, Glen almost decided to hang it up altogether and put the Cathedrals to an early grave.

But, the group was blessed enough to add 3 newcomers to the field of quartet singing--pianist Roger Bennett, baritone Mark Trammell, and tenor Kirk Talley. By 1981 the group's fortunes began to change. The new sound appealed to a broad cross-section of listeners, and it certainly helped when they were able to get several of their recordings to the top of the radio charts. Soon promoters inundated the group with requests to sing at paid concerts.

Thus, from 1981 or so until 1999, when the group retired, they enjoyed tremendous success that only continued to climb right up until their retirement.  The 18 years of great success was far less than the 20 years that the group spent in small churches night after night barely making enough in love offerings to fill the bus with diesel.

My point in telling you all this is that contrary to the notion of many that Gospel singers are 'only in it for the money' is ridiculous. If that were true, they most certainly would NOT be singing Gospel music! For most, there is NO money in it, just a deep love for the Gospel, an abiding love for this kind of singing, and a desire to be out there spreading the good message of Christ's love.

And as for me, I am at the bottom rung of the faceless scores of good, solid folk out there every week trying to take the Gospel in song to people who need to hear it.

But, as you well know, it is impossible to exist without money. Many lament the 'profit motive' as evil but turn right around and engage in it to the max, because no matter what they tell you outwardly, internally they know that unless they get out there and work in order to make money, they will not eat or pay their bills.

And this is why I ask you, without hesitation, to donate to this ministry. We are over half-way through our '10 Days Ablaze' where you can get some mighty fine free gifts for your donation. Soon this special promotional will end.

I need your support. And if you support what I am trying to do, consider making a donation. Take a look at the various levels of donation and the free gifts you will receive as a result RIGHT HERE.


If you don't support what I am doing, or you hate my singing, or you wish I would go away, then don't donate. I don't want you to feel pressured to support something you don't want or like. But then if you were so dead-set against it, you wouldn't be reading this now, would you?

Thank-you sincerely for what you have done so far. And please, if you have not given, consider making your gift today so you won't miss out on free Bibles and/or free music.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Blazing a Trail

This ministry blazes a trail to some places that the Christian message does not normally go. With my extensive connections in the political world, some persons may click on these pages simply because they read my news stories and political commentary at The Examiner and The Liberty Sphere.

I am also engaged in taking the Christian message on the road--spreading the Gospel in song, word, and testimony. I write some of my own material, which is self-published and which does not bring much money, if any.

My programs at churches are free. I depend totally on what they are willing to give, and if they are willing to buy a CD. Some are unable to afford that, but the message is taken to them anyway. I have even given my CDs to some individuals for free, believing that it is more important for them to have the music than it is for me to make money.

However, such a practice does not come without some significant personal sacrifice. This is a shoestring operation that survives day-to-day. Sometimes I lose money. Sometimes I make a little money. As it evens out, I break even at best. In other words, I do not make enough money from this ministry alone to live on. Everything goes toward expenses.

This means that at any given moment in time, this operation will have to cease. Without funds I cannot get from place to place, nor get my music out to people who I feel sorely need it.

These are things to think about as you consider making a donation during my 'Ten Days Ablaze' going on right now, here at Martin Christian Ministries.

There are 4 levels of donations, each of which carry free gifts in appreciation for your support. The top 2 levels--Benefactor and Sponsor--carry a gift of a free leather-bound study Bible that I will send to you when you make either a $200 or a $100 donation. Other gifts are offered as well.

You can read all about the various levels of giving, and the free gifts that will be sent to you, right here.


This is a good opportunity for you to get free Bibles and free music--all for simply helping me in this ministry. Thank-you!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Note Important Changes to the Free Gifts Offered Below!

The free Bibles offered to those donating at the Benefactor Level and the Sponsor Level are leather-bound study Bibles.

In addition, I have just been informed that I can now offer a free pocket New Testament to those donating at the Patron level. This is in addition to your choice of a free CD.

The final change is that those donating at the Booster level will get both CDs--the vintage Royals Quartet recording from 1972 AND my latest CD entitled, 'By Request.'

So, the special offers just got much better to those who make donations in each of the 4 levels.

READ UP ON THE FOUR DONATION LEVELS AND THE GIFTS THAT ARE OFFERED UNDER EACH BY CLICKING ON THIS SENTENCE!  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Can Life's Adversities Draw One Closer to God?

Throughout the years that I have been involved in various types of Christian ministry--music director, Pastor, evangelist, chaplain--sooner or later the issue of life's adversities will come to the forefront of discussion. It is inevitable, for if you live long enough you will encounter loss, pain, disappointment, grief, sadness, and even despair.

Such is the nature of life.

And, as human beings who have been endowed by their Creator with a brain, we have serious questions to ask concerning such suffering that go to the very heart of our faith.

As one who has been heavily involved with ministry to those who are in crisis, I have observed that it can go either way--either a person finds themselves pushing God out of their lives due to the feeling of abandonment, or they will find themselves drawn closer to God in the midst of such suffering.

Thus, I can say that life's adversities can draw us closer to God, provided we keep a level head and think our way through it.

God never promised a life free of pain and suffering, but He did promise that He would be with us through it. His presence helps us deal with the devastating effects of illness, disappointment, grief, trauma, and hopelessness.

And, if we push away the very One who helps us during such times, then we are dreadfully alone in the middle of it.

I will confess that I have reacted both ways to various and sundry calamities that have befallen me.

Earlier in life, I had my plans mapped out. I knew what I wanted to do, how I would do it, and I set about to reach those goals with a single-minded purpose. Then, the rug was pulled out from under my feet. I was absolutely devastated to the point of complete despair, hopelessness, and overwhelming anxiety, having everything I had counted on taken away from me. God was at once a source of strength but also a source of my blame. At one point the blame was so deep and thorough that I wanted nothing to do with church or ministry.

Eventually I saw the absolute folly of that course of action and corrected it.

But then, in other episodes of deep pain, I have found the presence of Christ to be the only thing that kept me going.

Some of you are aware of my various physical maladies that have befallen me in recent years. I had no idea anything was wrong until one day, out of the blue, I was struck with a serious vision problem that sent me to a specialist on a emergency basis. I was then referred to yet another specialist.

The diagnosis was clear, but the underlying source of it was a mystery.

In the meantime, I began to experience other distinct symptoms involving multiple body systems such as the joints and skin. This gave physicians an important clue, which eventually led to a diagnosis. I was also diagnosed with yet another malady that had nothing to do with this one.

The good news is that the eyes, after 3 years, have stabilized. I still have intermittent problems, but nothing to the degree with which I suffered for the first 2 and a half years. I am told that, if the diagnosis is correct, the eye problem should gradually clear up--in about 7 more years. I kid you not. 7 years is a long time, but it is much better than going blind.

The other problems, however, represent the bad news. They are chronic and lifelong.

I cannot work a 9-to-5 job like most people due to the ill effects of the illnesses on the body, and the medications for them. I would qualify for government disability, but I will not do that if I can avoid it. For one thing, I don't believe in it, and for another thing, I am not ready to give up or give in to the maladies that beset me.

Thus, I am forced to work 3 different jobs in order to piece together enough money to squeak by--barely. That in itself takes its toll.

Through it all, however, I found that the presence of Christ has grown more poignant, my spiritual life deeper, and my faith enriched like it has not been in years. My troubles this time have not resulted in my pushing God away in anger but in drawing Him closer, infinitely closer. And I am most richly blessed.

My friends, do not push God away when life comes apart. He may be the only friend who can truly help you through it.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's Still True

When I was a boy I remember hearing some of the old-timers say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it."

Then, a revival preacher came to my church and put a new spin to it--"The Bible says it, and that settles it whether you 'believe it' or not!"

The man had a good point.

Some things are true whether people believe them or not. You can insist all day long that there is no such thing as gravity, but that does not make it any less true. You can claim from here to eternity that if a person jumps off the Empire State Building and crashes onto the pavement below, it will not kill them, but I will guarantee you that if you try it, you will be a greasy spot on the sidewalk no matter what you 'believe.'

In like manner, there are things in the spiritual life that are true whether you believe them to be or not. Truth is truth, and it does not require your approval.

To be sure, there are great mysteries that we will never quite grasp. The finite is incapable of grasping that which is infinite. For example, I like to read, study, and ponder quantum physics. The discipline holds rich implications for spirituality and Christianity, due to the fact that, as human beings, we are part and parcel of an infinite God who creates. And, as his offspring, created in His image, so do we create.

But, quantum physics is too vast, too complex for my mind to totally wrap itself around. This does not mean that its concepts do not hold truth. I may even deny that its concepts are true. But, that in no way makes it untrue. It is still true whether I believe it or not.

I like to draw parallels across various disciplines, to see relationships between, say, quantum physics and the Bible, or Christianity and psychology.

And being one who draws those parallels, I find myself reaffirming Biblical truth all over again.

The 'old, old story' has been around so long, and adhered to by so many, and placed under the refiner's fire of scrutiny, persecution, attempts at eradication, and the like, that it seems to me that the old, old story of Jesus and His love is as timeless as the concepts of quantum physics. The concepts inherent in the story of the Christ are timeless and all-encompassing. We may not be able to understand it all, but we can know enough to know  that something there is very moving and life-changing.

Perhaps it is the story of an innocent man put to death for the wrongdoing of others. Perhaps it is the fact that Jesus was willing to lay down his life to show his disciples and the world the ultimate value of unconditional love. Perhaps it is the fact that the Gospels tell us that we were here in antiquity long before we were born, conceived in the mind of God, and that we will be here long after we 'die' a physical death. This is one of the reasons I have no problem believing in the Resurrection of Christ. Everything I have learned in the realm of science, astronomy, and quantum physics only confirms the great truths of the Bible, in my view.

This is why 'the old, old story' never grows old. It is always relevant.

Here is a treat for you. It's one of the Florida Boys' great hits in the days leading up to their retirement in 2007. This one is great quartet singing at its best. And, to go along with the message today, it's entitled, 'It's Still True.'  I embedded the video below, but in case you can't access it, use the link. Enjoy...


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Things That Should Not Be Forgotten

I was singing over the weekend and had the opportunity to present a relatively new song that has created quite a stir within Gospel music circles. People seem to take to it immediately, drawn by its simplicity of melody and message.

The man who wrote it lives near the North Carolina mountains, and the song has a mountain flavor. Unfortunately, I do not have a recording of it to share with you. But I can share the words:

I Have Not Forgotten
words and music by Lance Carpenter

I have not forgotten God's only begotten
And the price that He paid for my sin.
I shall not forget in love not regret
He died on the cross for all men.

Lord, I have not forgotten.
Jesus, only begotten.
I was lost without hope
When the Lord saved my soul.
I remember that hour
By His saving power
I have not forgotten...
I have not forgotten...

He was bruised and afflicted as the prophets predicted
Despised and rejected of all men
But in His agony He paid the ransom for me
His blood brings me joy without end.

Lord, I have not forgotten.
Jesus, only begotten
I was lost without hope
When the Lord saved my soul
I remember that hour
By His saving power
I have not forgotten...
I have not forgotten...

I've been washed by His blood
His crimson flood
I have not forgotten...
I have not forgotten...
-------
You see, America by and large has forgotten some very important things in her history that made her a great nation. One of those things is her great faith, a deep abiding belief in the truths of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I fear that unless those truths are recovered and affirmed once again, we will not survive as a nation. But there is always hope. As long as there is life there is hope.